You may have heard me talk about Frank? Who is he and where did he come from?
Well, some of you may know that before I was manager of the theatre, I used to teach dance at the theatre since 2004 on a Sunday morning. I started off teaching in the studio and then moved onto the stage.
At that time, I used to enter the main house auditorium through our accessible entrance and run up the stairs to turn on the house lights by the entrance to the lighting box.
Now the seats that we have in the main house are new and were put in, in about 2010. There used to be a few more seats and they were very heavy but would easily spring up if you weren’t careful.
Every Sunday morning I used to climb the stairs to turn on the lights and every morning the very top chair would go down as if someone was sitting on it. At the end of every session I would again run up the stairs to turn off the lights and the seat would return to its upright position. This was my first introduction to Frank.
Now I must say that I have no idea if Frank is their name, whether they are male or female, but I started saying good morning and goodbye to Frank from the start and it’s kind of stuck, so Frank it is. They don’t seem to mind it!
Over the years whilst teaching we had a couple of incidents that can’t be explained especially the mysterious piano playing….
I was teaching on the stage as normal when I heard a piano playing, thinking it was just the singing teacher or the track on my music I ignored this however, later on that morning we were all in the auditorium, kids sat on the stage and all teachers sat around talking to them. Suddenly we all stopped and looked at each other when we heard a piano playing. We accounted for everyone in the building and I went off to investigate.
Behind the stage is the ground floor dressing room and this was where I could hear the music coming from. I slowly opened the door to find the music stop and the old upright piano in the corner of the room with its lid down.
I shut the door to make my way back around to the stage when the music started again. I again went back to the dressing room and as soon as I opened the door the music stopped. I shut the door and waited outside and sure enough the piano playing started again so I pushed open the door as fast as I could but as soon as I looked into the room the music stopped. This went on a couple more times then the music just stopped.
I made my way back to the stage and admitted that I had no idea where the music was coming from and that there was nobody there. I blame Frank!!
It’s not just me though….
Not long after I started working at the theatre, I was having a conversation with the housekeeper, who had been there for several years, when she started talking about the ghost. I stood quietly whilst she spoke about how she had felt someone walk past her in the corridor and that she didn’t like being in the building on her own as she felt someone was there with her. I blamed Frank!!
We had a charity running a café in the theatre bar for a few months and one of them asked me who was talking in the disabled toilet? I explained that I was the only one in the building with her and I hadn’t heard anything. Sure enough if you are in the toilet you can hear people talking through the sink quite clearly! We blame Frank!!
Weston College students were in the theatre rehearsing on the stage for their upcoming show, there were only 4 of them, whilst I was working in the box office with the theatre closed to the public. One of them came running out of theatre to me in the box office looking panicked and almost in tears. I asked her if she was okay and she could hardly breathe but kept asking who the man was? I asked her what she meant, she said they were on stage and she saw a man in the windows of the top doors into the theatre watching them. I explained to her that I was the only other person in the building and that no-one could have got there without getting past me. We blamed Frank!!
Sometimes you hear unexplained noises, lights going on or off and a cold wind where you wouldn’t expect it. We have had a paranormal investigation, but they couldn’t find Frank but I know he’s there.
Most of the staff (past and present) are not happy about being in the theatre alone, but I love it. He’s friendly and never done anything to harm anyone.
So we live with him, I always say good morning and goodbye. Have a little chat with him if I’m alone.
So next time you visit do say hello to Frank, I think he likes to be acknowledged!
As they say all great theatres have a ghost!
Sally (Theatre Manager)
Technician – Tim
My first professional job as a technician was at Butlins for a summer season carrying out various tasks within the Entertainments Department. My next job was back in my home town at the Theatre Royal Windsor.
Then came my first real break into the glitzy world of showbusiness when I went to Chichester Festival Theatre for a summer season – which lasted thirteen years!
It is here that I really learnt my trade, not only as a sound engineer and designer, but also as a lighting technician. The resident maintenance engineer also taught me the basics of electrical installation. From Chichester, I worked as a freelance sound engineer and designer – mostly in the West End of London.
After a short sabbatical in Israel, I ended up in Stratford upon Avon working for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Again, I only went there for the season and ended up leaving twenty four years later. At the RSC, I was a part of the Sound Department as sound operator, engineer and designer. Over the years there were many changes in performance spaces in which I was involved in remodelling the sound systems. The technology in recording and playback also evolved in this time from analogue to digital. Again, I was deeply involved in the redesigning of the dubbing room installations. The RSC has a major programme of large and small scale touring and I designed the touring sound rigs for many other venues.
A very busy period in my life, but twenty four years on I decided that it was time to move on. A stage management colleague wanted to open a Tea Shop and I agreed to take on the role of Manager. This was something very new to me as I was a “backstage” boy! It meant working and interacting directly with customers. I was so nervous – I’d never done that before. I soon learned, however, that I had a rapport with the patrons and thoroughly enjoyed it! Despite the tea shop becoming a huge success, it was eventually time for me to leave Stratford upon Avon and retire.
So, here I am in Weston super Mare. But there was no way I could actually retire: I had to be doing something. I tried quite a few different jobs before seeing an ad in the local paper for casual FOH staff at the Blakehay Theatre. At my interview, the management were apparently impressed with my CV, and so I was employed as a casual technician as well as FOH. Later I was taken onto the staff full time. My past knowledge and experience in commercial theatre has enabled me to suggest many small adjustments to the technical set up.
When the idea of Coffee Mornings came up, once again my experience in a tea shop was invaluable. I had knowledge of food preparation, food hygiene, baking and customer service. This last, of course, is important in all aspects of caring for the patrons of the theatre.
Working as a team, the staff of theatre are constantly looking for ways to make improvements in the customer experience. On the technical side, there are still many projects in the pipeline to improve the technical facilities for incoming productions. Many companies who visit us have complimented us on the helpful and friendly reception they receive. We also have plans to improve audience satisfaction. The staff at the Blakehay and myself have evolved into a close knit team. I hope this is reflected in the overall customer experience of Weston’s theatregoers.
Box Office Administrator – Kevin
I first learnt about the Blakehay Theatre soon after I’d moved to Weston when they had the Comedy Box series of comedy nights in 2012. It has always had a lovely warm, friendly and intimate feel so when I had the chance to work at the Blakehay, I was very excited.
We’ve gone on to host a lot of great comedy events since then at the theatre. I’ve always particularly enjoyed challenging comedy; there’s nothing like laughing one minute and feeling a bit uncomfortable the next. Back in the early 00’s, the Sunday comedy nights at the Bunch of Grapes pub in Bristol were a great example of that, where local comedians tested their new material. Surprisingly, a lot of the acts that used to appear there have gone on to be big names, but the most memorable act from those nights was EricEric, the most provocative comedian I’ve ever seen; none of the audience really knew what was part of the act and what wasn’t, and whether he was actually even funny at all.
I first experienced theatre as an adult while I was studying at Leeds University, and while I didn’t know it then, the Pyramid theatre in the Students’ Union is one of only 9 in-the-round theatres in the UK. As you’d imagine, the Union theatre hosted a range of challenging and experimental productions which I loved.
Despite some peoples opinions, I feel that Weston certainly has enough culture if you just look hard enough. A good example of this was an excellent one night open air performance of Twelve Night by a touring company a few years back – literally touring around in a small van, handing out flyers in the afternoon, then roping off a bit of Clarence Park and performing on an obviously very minimalist set.
Another cultural highlight of Weston was The Wonderful World of Dissocia performed by the College at the Blakehay last year, possibly up there as some of the best theatre that I’ve ever seen, and certainly a lesson not to underestimate or even dismiss any of the College productions. Its a real shame that the team’s production of Comic Potential this year has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but I’m certainly looking forward to watching their show in 2021. I would thoroughly recommend going to see one of the College shows in the future if you get the chance.
Housekeeper – Naomi
Hi, I worked as a design assistant for a clothing company until I had my first daughter from then on I was self-employed working as an outworker to the same company and also as a self-employed dressmaker.
When my two daughters progressed to secondary school I wanted to return to work part time in a job outside the home. I found a cleaning job working for North Somerset at Weston Museum. The work I enjoyed and it was really great being part of a lovely team and daily being in this fascinating building containing the stories of Weston’s history.
During my time here I started studying Humanities with the OU the combination was perfect and the Museum filled me with inspiration and encouragement during my study. Half way through my study I underwent an assessment for Dyslexia and there on received support to continue my degree.
In 2011 the Town Council took over the running of the Museum from North Somerset and I joined the new team a fun time of trying out many new activities that have continued and grown at the Museum.
In 2015 when the Museum closed for two years for refurbishment I joined the team at the Blakehay theatre as their housekeeper continuing my journey with the Town Council.
I have to admit though while I was aware of the change of use of Wadham Street Baptist church I had never been to a show. Again I joined a great team who love to bring entertainment in many styles to the public. It was a whole new experience being behind the scenes where everyone’s role counts to make the shows go smoothly, getting to know how shows come together and learning from those who have been working in theatre for many years.
Box Office Administrator – Jasmine
Hi, my name is Jasmine and I am one of the two Box Office Administrators at the Blakehay Theatre. I am one of the youngest and newest members of the Blakehay team – I started working here in April 2018 so two years ago now.
It seemed very natural to me to end up working in a Theatre…
I am Weston born and bred, and started my involvement with Performing Arts at the tender age of 2 and ½ by attending ballet classes. This very quickly progressed to tap and modern classes as well, then followed the yearly dance competitions. Dance is still a very prevalent aspect of my life and is one of the reasons I found myself at the Blakehay Theatre in the first place – we’ll come back to that later.
Dancing expanded through my school years to Drama and Theatre. I would always partake in school plays and also enjoyed singing, if the roles asked for it. Up until this point, I had always viewed myself solely as a performer but this was not necessarily the case. By the time I hit aged 14, I realised I had a real passion for Choreographing and creating as well.
I ended up taking Drama and Theatre at both GCSE and A Level and I was very fortunate to see a lot of live theatre during this time at various venues in Weston, Bristol, Bath and sometimes even London. It was therefore an easy decision for me to take a Theatre degree at University. I obtained my BA(Hons) degree in Theatre from Falmouth University in 2016: fun fact – Dawn French was the person to present me with my degree!
So by now it’s 2016 and I moved back to Weston after my degree, not really knowing what I was going to do – the classic post-student phase.
Before getting the job at the Blakehay, I actually started working for The Playhouse Weston as a Front of House Assistant – I still work there now. Working in a theatre environment made me realise how much I enjoyed it and how it never felt like work to me, because it was something I have and always will love.
So, coming back to how dance led me to the Blakehay… I actually attended the Tidalwave Contemporary classes at the Blakehay before I left for University with my younger cousin.
When I came back to Weston in 2016, I wanted to keep dancing and performing. Therefore, I went straight back to the Blakehay Theatre and to Tidalwave. I found a joy for Contemporary whilst at University: the need for both freedom and relaxation but also technique and control. This meant, although I didn’t know her that well at the time, I was seeing the Theatre Manager Sally on a weekly basis.
Then the rest is history: I applied for the job, got invited in for an interview and it was a success.
Considering I started as just a Box Office Administrator, I feel like I have gained and grown so much through this job. You really can’t work in a Theatre unless you truly pour yourself into it: eat it, sleep it and breathe it. I am excited to see how I and the Theatre progresses in the years to come.
Thank you so much for reading this – I look forward to being back in the Box Office, seeing and speaking to you all again soon.
Theatre Technician – Rob
I hope your all keep safe and well in these very strange times? I’ve been asked by Sally, the Theatre Manager, to write a blog post. Our aim is to keep producing content throughout this lockdown.
I thought I’d start off by giving you a brief history of how I ended up becoming the Technician at The Blakehay Theatre.
So here it goes…… I grew up in Bridgwater and my family were involved in local amateur dramatics and the Bridgwater Pantomime Society. As a youngster, I didn’t have any real interest or desire to be involved or perform myself. As I was very shy when I was younger.
As I got older, I started to become interested in theatre scenery design. I was lucky enough to do work experience while at secondary school at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and The Bristol Old Vic Theatre. This brief but enjoyable experience sold it to me. I was determined to work in the theatre!
Upon leaving school, I enrolled on a Performing Arts course at Bridgwater College. While at Bridgwater College, I started to get interested in music. I played guitar and sang (badly). While at college, I met a bunch of like minded individuals and we formed a band.
From then on and for a number of years, the theatre took a bit of a back seat. I was still keeping ‘my toe in the water’ by working on the odd show here and there but the band we had formed started to take off. The bands name was Bukowski. We wrote and recorded all our own songs and ended up on television and radio. One of the most strangest experiences I’ve ever had was walking into Virgin Megastore at The Mall in Bristol and seeing our album on sale in there. Things like that only happen to other people!
After a while, the band broke up and I took on a series of jobs. Thermal Injection Moulder, Carpet Fitter (no, I won’t fit your hall, stairs and landing!) I even worked at my local tip. Which I still look back on with great fondness today.
By pure chance, an old college friend of mine was teaching on the Performing Arts course at Bridgwater College. They were looking for someone to come in and teach Technical Theatre on a part time basis. I enquired about the position, got an interview and was offered the post. I ended up working at Bridgwater College for eight years. Teaching a variety of technical Theatre subjects.
As much as I enjoyed teaching. I missed working in the theatre. Nothing beats the buzz and nervous energy of working on a show. In 2011, The Blakehay was looking for a new technician. It was the perfect opportunity for me to get into the industry and do what I loved. I was lucky enough to be offered the position and have been here ever since.
And there you have it. A very brief history of how I ended up working at the theatre.
I’m sure I’ll be cajoled to write another blog post soon. Best get my thinking cap on!
Stay safe everyone.